The Image Of Alcohol Use In Country Music

2351 words - 9 pages

The Image of Alcohol Use in Country Music

The relative presence or absence of clear norms prescribing certain kinds of alcohol use has long been regarded as a key factor in rates of alcoholism (e.g., 1, 2). In societies where it is expected that drinking will be used as a means to facilitate certain kinds of behavior or to assuage problems the incidence of alcohol problems is much higher than in those where expectations are that it be used for ceremonial functions (3).

The purpose of the present study was to examine the current image of alcohol use in country music, an element of American popular culture in which alcohol use and misuse has long been a major theme (4, 5). In country music the simple ideal and real values of the southern and southwestern regions of the United States, as well as middle-America generally, are explicitly stated. The lyrics affirm a simple and working classes and by those whose class origins are in these two groups. Therefore, analysis of such lyrical expressions provides an opportunity to explore values common to large segments of the population.

We hypothesized (1) that country music would reflect a high degree of ambivalence concerning the use of alcohol, wavering between an ideal value and a real one, and (2) that it would promote or prescribe the use of alcohol for the facilitation or assuagement.

While the ideal values of society, particularly the agrarian society from which country music stems, tend to portray drinking as "evil", the lyrics also extol its use. Adhering to the traditional fundamentalist view of alcohol as a tool of Satanic temptation (6), the ideal view condemns the use of alcohol. The real values, however, are quite different: Drinking is seen as related to manhood (as in the "good old boy" syndrome), facilitation in social life, and assuagement of problems. Even with this real view, however, the narratives of the country songs can still suggest the idea of repentance. The drinker is seen as finally either repenting, particularly returning to the "good" woman, or meeting a tragic end - Skid Row, prison or death.

The sample consisted of half the songs which appeared on the weekly 100 "Hot Country Singles" list in Billboard Magazine during a 1-year period (1 October 1974 to 30 September 1975, or 52 issues). Songs were chosen by taking every second song from a list of all songs appearing at least once on the charts. The Billboard charts have been used in other research and demonstrated to be an effective single index to the popularity of songs of all varieties (7). Songs, obviously, may appear on the "charts" once or for many weeks.

We examined the lyrics of 275 songs to determine whether drinking behavior was a theme. We then analyzed the lyrics of the 30 songs in which drinking was a theme in terms of (1) the use prescribed for beverage alcohol, (2) indications of guilt for having violated and ideal norm, (3) the end result of drinking and (4) expressions or ideas concerning...

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